Stardust reinvented sportsbooks thanks to 'Lefty'

Feb 17, 2015 3:00 AM

The 1995 movie “Casino” was about the Stardust, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, and Tony Spilotro. Robert De Niro played Lefty aka Ace Rothstein in the movie. Sharon Stone played Jerri, his wife. Joe Pesci played Spilotro.

The Stardust was called the Tangiers. The race and sports book in the movie was not the actual Stardust book but was filmed in an unopened venue in the Jockey Club.

Lefty, a master handicapper, moved from his hometown Chicago to Miami, and then to Las Vegas in 1968. He ran the Rose Bowl Race & Sports book on the Strip and was tapped by the Chicago Outfit in the ‘70s to look out for their Vegas interests.

Lefty conceived and built the race and sports book for the Stardust. Way ahead of his time, he saw the earning power it could have and the benefit to an entire property. What ingenious ideas Lefty had and brought to fruition. At the time, books in the hotels were not much more than small betting counters, an afterthought.

Even Caesars Palace only had a small carousel of a sports book. So small, in fact, players would reach around and change odds on the boards when personnel weren’t paying attention.

He had the blessings of Chicago behind him. Lefty, who may have never cracked a smile in his life, didn’t have to answer to corporate suits or bean counters. He built a mammoth book with ceilings three stories high. The boards were a couple stories high reaching almost to the ceiling. Big enough to require catwalks and ladders behind them, so odds and results could be put in by hand, much like Fenway Park.

He installed a state-of-the art satellite TV system with a monster theater screen and a compliment of smaller ones to bring in games and races other books didn’t even acknowledge as existing. A maintenance crew was assigned exclusively to take care of the satellite system and TVs. People flocked to the Stardust.

The race book odds and results boards were the best ever. Players loved them. They were easy to read compared to today’s electronic boards. The race book behind-the-scenes process started at 6 a.m. when two girls typed entries, jockeys, track conditions and morning odds into a machine that transferred them to film.

The girls then took the film to the race book’s dark room to develop them. They were actually negatives when developed. Each race was on a 6-inch by 12-inch negative. Five or six tracks minimum were produced. Once developed, the girls called upstairs to the boardroom for a race book board man to come down and get them. He took the films back upstairs to the cavernous boardroom and control desk which resembled a spaceship.

Two rows of race boards, each a story tall with its own catwalk. The board men could maneuver the catwalks like Tarzan. This monster room was dim with a speaker system that added to the spaceship atmosphere. None of this was visible on the other side of the boards.

Where did the negatives come in? Lefty had big projectors installed behind the race boards, one for every race. The negatives were placed on each projector in their proper order of track and race. They were then projected onto the rear of the giant boards and to a size of 3.5 feet by 7 feet. Players on the other side, down on the main floor, had a clear, easy to read black and white of every race.

As results came in a man in the control room, located in the guts of the boardroom, announced them to the guys on the catwalks who would open up the corresponding door and insert the results, again like Fenway.

To protect the customers from errors, Lefty installed a movable video camera on the opposite side of the race book, facing the boards, so the man at the control desk could scan the posted results for accuracy. The race book customers had no idea what went into this process. All they saw were big, neat boards. Good thing.

The race board men were a unique crew, kind of like a parallel workforce. One or two may have actually bunked in that cavernous area. They had couches on each catwalk. A girlfriend or two were rumored to have visited. I just pretended I never saw anything. Their work was always done. They didn’t need supervision. Enough said.

Upper management and security didn’t venture up there since it was only accessible by ladder, like a submarine, only in the air. Once, however, the fire department did go up there on an inspection. The control room walls were covered with pinups. They had to come down – fire hazard, you know.

The sports boards, on the other side of the book, were a one-man operation in a much smaller setting. The sports boards covered one-fifth the area of the race boards. They were located on the second floor, directly above the sports book counter. A bottom row with another row on top, each board was 5 feet by 7 feet on hinges like a door. Results and odds were displayed on plaques, again like Fenway.

The bottom three boards were floor level while the top three were reached with a big, rolling ladder. Every team in every sport had a plaque. Also pitchers, league names, dates, times, etc., were on plaques. When a pitcher was brought up from the minors, or a fight or any event not on a plaque was booked, a plaque was made for it, right in the boardroom.

There were trays of letters and numbers that could cover scores and anything that came up. Odds changes were announced to the customers via speakers hooked up to a mike and also to the board man upstairs. The room also had a sports ticker for scores and a TV. The board man would open the big doors and put odds changes or scores in their slots.

The sports board men were a unique breed also. Bobby “The Beard” was my favorite. I was sorry to see him go. However, one Friday about 10 p.m. Bobby spells out a message on the boards, closes up, and goes home. The message read, for the entire casino to see: “REAGAN ENDS WELFARE CREATES 5,000 NBA TEAMS.”

No more Bobby the Beard at the Stardust. Lefty’s boards would later be replaced with electronic boards, much to customers’ chagrin.

Scotty Schettler began his Las Vegas journey in 1968. By the time he quit the race and sports book business he had booked over $1.5 billion for different employers. He says he knows where most of the cans are buried. His book,  is available on amazon.com. Contact Scotty at [email protected].